Thoughts on Leadership: Leaders Focus on Big Ideas and Big Challenges

It was a slim lead that got John F. Kennedy elected president over Richard Nixon in 1960. It wasn't until he proved himself in the way he handled his "BIG challenge" – the Cuban Missile Crisis – and drove his "BIG idea" – getting a man on the moon – that ultimately won him popularity.  All leaders will endure this test of big challenges and big ideas. It takes focus to handle each and make a difference by overcoming something that may at first seem impossible. It's those who successfully focus their attention and the attention of others who will go into history books for their accomplishments. When leaders focus on these key result areas they will impact their organization, their employees and their families, and their customers in the most positive ways possible.   A great example in the business world is Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who I personally connect too particularly because when Welch initially joined GE in 1960, he worked as a junior engineer in my hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I have read each and every book written by Jack Welch: Straight from the Gut, Winning, Jack Welch and the GE way, Jack Welch and the 4E’s of Leadership, 29 Leadership Secrets,and Jack Welch Speaks: Wit and Wisdom from the World's Greatest Business Leader.

I model my leadership style after Welch because he is a business leader who has stayed focused and consistently showed his energy and passion. He was able to turn a struggling, slow-moving corporate giant into a dynamic and growing company.   His BIG idea? From the beginning, Welch was obsessed with turning GE into a flexible, lean business that ranked first or second in every industry in which it did business. He channeled this obsession to focus himself and others on the end goal.   His BIG challenge? Overcoming the complacency, bureaucracy and bloated organizational hierarchy at General Electric. When Jack became CEO, not everyone shared his view that the company was complacent. GE was an established, successful, "mature" company, after all. He nevertheless showed relentless determination and courage to correct this. In his first seven years on the job, Welch reduced GE's workforce by 25 percent, which set up the company for future growth.

When Welch left GE, the company had gone from a market value of $14 billion to one of more than $410 billion at the end of 2004, making it the most valuable and largest company in the world. Welch's leadership and strategies have been emulated by many across corporate America. That’s what a clear focus did for him.   This past weekend, I was listening to one of my favorite motivational speakers Zig Ziglar, he spoke about a particular study on focus that caught my attention. In 1920, a professor at Stanford University, Dr. Lewis Terman started a study on observing 1440 gifted students. When he retired another professor was assigned to them and followed these students until the end of their life.   Throughout this study they came to notice that many of these students were extremely successful and just brilliant individuals. And indeed many of these students had gone on to great success. The interesting part to this study though, is that not one of these individuals attributed their IQ to their success. Instead, what they attributed to their success was their ability to focus on the issues at hand.

Focus makes a lot of difference. Focus simply means that you are in the same place physically and emotionally.” –Zig Ziglar

Therefore, focusing through challenges and ideas makes the great leaders.

When assessing your own leadership goals and accomplishments, use some of these questions to help you focus:

  • What is your vision for your BIG idea? 
  • Will you have to overcome a BIG challenge? If so, how will you handle that?
  • Do you have the strength, passion and strong will to see things through?
  • How can you help others have a vision for their BIG idea?
  • How can you help others adequately grow their abilities?
  • What are ways you can reward those who make BIG ideas happen and those who overcome those BIG challenges?

How you focus your attention and the attention of others on big ideas and big challenges will determine your leadership legacy. Pay attention to your focus in order to keep control and move toward the big goals you have set for yourself and for your team.